Beltline Avoids Addressing Gentrification, Again

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(APN) ATLANTA — Atlanta Beltline, Inc., failed to address public concerns regarding gentrification during their Quarterly Report before the Community Development/Human Resources Committee of the City Council of Atlanta, despite the fact that Brian Leary, CEO of the organization, promised to do so during their last Quarterly Presentation before the same committee.

CD/HR is the Council Committee which is supposed to provide oversight of the Beltline.

However, this Tuesday, September 14, 2010, Chairwoman Joyce Sheperd (District 12) allowed the Beltline to make a very brief presentation, telling the public that Beltline would have a separate quarterly briefing at the Atlanta Public School building.

Sheperd explained that it was not necessary for the Beltline to speak for more than five minutes before the public, because the Beltline had had a private briefing the day before with Council Members.

It is not immediately clear whether that briefing was announced to the public in accordance with the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

During her presentation Tuesday, Beth McMillan, Director of Community Engagement, stated that the West End Trail had been completed; that work on the East Side Trail was to begin shortly; that Art on the Beltline was coming to a close; and that a wide array of parks are to be opening throughout the City of Atlanta in 2011.

These parks include the Historic Fourth Ward Park and Skate Park, the D.H. Stanton Park, and Boulevard Crossing Park.

McMillan did not bring the information, though, that Mr. Leary had promised during his previous presentation to the Committee on June 15, 2010.

Indeed, McMillan did not address affordable housing or gentrification at all in her presentation, except to say that there have been 30 closings for downpayment assistance in the last three months and that they are looking at the acquisition of properties for the development of affordable housing.

The downpayment assistance program mentioned by McMillan is something that had previously been available through the Atlanta Development Authority anyway, so is not a contribution specific to the Beltline.

When reminded of the promise made by Mr. Leary prior to the meeting, McMillan apologized and said that Mr. Leary did not tell her to bring the information.

Atlanta Progressive News raised two issues with Mr. Leary at their June 2010 briefing: subversion of affordable housing requirements in terms of income-targeting for multi-family units, and the lack of progress on displacement mitigation measures.

As previously reported by APN in an August 2009 article which first appeared on Inter-Press Service, the Atlanta Beltline, Inc., and Atlanta Development Authority refused to go along with a recommendation by the Beltline Affordable Housing Advisory Board (BAHAB), to set aside 10 percent of multi-family units funded by the Beltline for extremely low-income families.

In addition, BAHAB had made several recommendations that they stressed came out of the community engagement process, to mitigate displacement due to gentrification around the Beltline.

These recommendations were taken out of BAHAB’s final recommendations to the City Council, and with the exception of the Land Trust, there has been little progress on any of them.

Such recommendations–which have all but disappeared from public discourse–included assistance for renters, property tax abatement for seniors, and establishment of an inclusionary zoning policy.

“I want to thank Matthew [APN Editor] for coming today and sharing those things,” Leary said.

“What I would really ask of the Committee first, if we could come back and provide an update next time specifically on all of the affordable housing components we have done. Because there’s so many details and so many different categories,” Leary said.

“One, I’m not up to speed and an expert to talk on every single one of them,” Leary said.

“The displacement issue is a huge thing for us, and one of the things… the fifteen percent net proceeds that move over to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund can only be spent within the Tax Allocation District,” Leary said.

“And within the TAD, very deliberately, single-family homes were avoided,” Leary said, adding there are about 200 homes within the TAD.

“So what you’re really looking at is, multi-family units from a displacement standpoint,” Leary said.

“So that is why the Community Land Trust is standing up, to deal with displacement outside of the TAD where we don’t have as many tools,” Leary said.

“We’d love to see those dollars get put to use sooner than later. As you can imagine, in the worst real estate market in 80 years there aren’t many developers building this,” Leary said.

“If we could ask the opportunity to come back and highlight all the specific things too that Matthew [APN Editor] raised, and thank you, Matthew, for coming today,” Leary said.

“This is a big deal… at the end of the day, no matter what we’ve built out of concrete or steel, this is really what keeping a community and a City of neighborhoods is all about,” Leary said.

What APN reminded the CD/HR Committee that Mr. Leary had promised in the June briefing to address gentrification and affordable housing at the September briefing, not a single Committee member raised the issue, although Councilman Kwanza Hall (District 2) nodded his head that he remembered the promise.

When APN criticized the Committee, particularly Chairwoman Sheperd, for not inquiring as to the status of the information, she said she made a note of it.

Chairwoman Sheperd, whose responsibility is to provide oversight of the Beltline and ensure citizen concerns are addressed, said that she did not remember the conversation with Mr. Leary at all.

“As opposed to me sitting here and going back and forth bickering about it, I’ll write notes and I check on it,” Sheperd said.

“So I do listen… in reference to what you’re saying in terms of a quarterly, I would have to go back and look at that, because to be honest with you, I don’t remember that conversation at all,” Sheperd said.

“I would have to go back, pull records, and look at the specifics of what you’re talking about with Mr. Leary, because again, I don’t have that,” Sheperd said.

“We’re actually going through a process internally with ourself, that we’re looking at how we actually document everything that’s discussed at these meetings,” Sheperd said.

“I will tell you there’s major flaws in terms of us documenting everything that’s committed to, what we do in terms of our process,” Sheperd said.

“And that’s one of the things we’re looking at electronically, how we can actually change that, I’m actually making some recommendations now in terms of that,” Sheperd said.

“So I hear what you’re saying, point well taken, I heard you clearly,” Sheperd said.

“To that point, until then, sometimes you all may have to come up here and remind us about things that we commit to,” Sheperd said.

(END/2010)

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